NEW DELHI: India gave the green light for thousands of Sikh pilgrims to cross the border into Pakistan from Wednesday ahead of the birth anniversary of the religion’s founder Guru Nanak.
The Kartarpur Corridor, a visa-free crossing allowing Indian Sikhs to visit the temple in Pakistan where Guru Nanak passed away in 1539, first opened in 2019 for Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary but was closed last year because of the pandemic.
India’s Home Minister Amit Shah announced that the corridor will re-open from Wednesday ahead of Nanak’s birth anniversary celebrations this Friday. “In a major decision, that will benefit large numbers of Sikh pilgrims, PM @narendramodi govt has decided to re-open the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor from tomorrow,” he said on Twitter.
“I am sure that [the] govt’s decision to reopen the Kartarpur Sahib corridor will further boost the joy and happiness across the country,” Shah added.
A Pakistani official source said the corridor had never been closed on the Pakistan side, and that they were waiting for confirmation from Indian authorities that the pilgrims would be allowed to cross.
The white-domed shrine in Kartarpur, a small town just four kilometres (2.5 miles) inside Pakistan, had remained out of reach of Indian Sikhs for decades because of hostile relations between the two countries. There are an estimated 20,000 Sikhs left in Pakistan after millions fled to India following the Partition.
Guru Nanak, born in 1469 to a Hindu family near present-day Lahore, is revered both by Sikhs and Hindus who prepare community feasts known as langars to mark his birth anniversary.
Shergill hails reopening of Kartarpur corridor
Congress leader Jaiveer Shergill has welcomed the Centre’s decision to reopen the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor from Wednesday and said that the prayers and wishes of Guru Nanak Dev’s followers have been answered.
“It is a welcome decision by the central government. The prayers and wishes of all the followers of Baba Nanak have been answered,” the Congress leader told ANI today.
“On this occasion, we hope that the message of Baba Nanak of peace, harmony and brotherhood gets stronger and is spread to each and every household,” he added.
The corridor was shut in wake of the COVID pandemic. The visa-free 4.7-kilometre long corridor joins the Indian border to Gurudwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan and was inaugurated in 2019.
8,000 Sikh pilgrims to arrive in Pakistan
More than 8,000 Sikh pilgrims are expected to arrive in Pakistan from all over the world to participate in celebrations marking the 552nd birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, the Pakistani information minister said on Saturday.
Every year, thousands of Sikhs travel to Pakistan to participate in Guru Nanak’s birth anniversary celebrations. The main ceremony is held at Gurdwara Janamasthan in Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Guru Nanak. This year the celebrations will begin on November 17.
“More than eight thousand Sikh Yatrees from all over the globe are arriving in Pakistan to celebrate the birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak,” Information Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said on Twitter.
Pakistan on Friday said that the Kartarpur Corridor was open from its side and India was also expected to allow the Sikh pilgrims desiring to join the upcoming birth anniversary celebrations of Baba Guru Nanak from November 17-26.
“We are all set to welcome thousands of devotees from India and around the world coming to Pakistan for the upcoming birth anniversary celebrations of Baba Guru Nanak from 17-26 November for which elaborate arrangements have been put in place,” Foreign Office Spokesperson Asim Iftikhar said in his weekly press briefing.
He said Pakistan also commemorated the second anniversary of the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor-dubbed the ‘Corridor of Hope’ by the UN Secretary-General.
Inaugurated by Prime Minister Imran Khan in 2019, the Corridor is a shining example of our efforts to promote interfaith harmony and is reflective of the primacy Pakistan accords to religious minorities in the country.
The spokesperson note with growing concern how minorities in India, particularly Muslims, were being systematically persecuted and ostracized under the Hindutva-driven ideology of the BJP-RSS combine.
Besides closing its eyes to radical mobs, the Indian authorities are also pursuing anti-Muslim citizenship-related policies and actions, including the mischievous NRC scheme aimed at disenfranchising millions of Muslims, he added.